IRL: Team Penske press conference transcript, part 1

IRL: Team Penske press conference transcript, part 1
May 15, 2004, 5:32 AM

88th Indianapolis 500 Press Conference Roger Penske, Tim Cindric, Rick Mears, Helio Castroneves, Sam Hornish Jr. Friday, May 14, 2004 Part 1 of 2 MIKE KING: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Trackside Conference Room. I would like to ...

88th Indianapolis 500 Press Conference
Roger Penske, Tim Cindric, Rick Mears, Helio Castroneves, Sam Hornish Jr.
Friday, May 14, 2004

Part 1 of 2

MIKE KING: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Trackside Conference Room. I would like to welcome Marlboro Team Penske to the podium. Doing a little research last night, kind of interesting, when you talk about dominance by a team, in the last three 500's, the combined average finishing position for two cars fielded by Team Penske over the last three races is 2.8. That's the combined average finishing position of both cars in the last three 500's. That's pretty impressive. Roger Penske, team owner, is seated in the middle. This year's drivers, Helio Castroneves, two-time Indy 500 champion, Sam Hornish, Jr., two-time IndyCar Series champion with us, four-time Indy 500 champion, special consultant to the team, Rick Mears, and the man who heads it all up, Tim Cindric, the president of Penske Racing. Roger, let's get it started with you. A comment on the month of May up to this point. Twice Helio has been fastest, including yesterday.

ROGER PENSKE: I think the day we want to be fastest is certainly Race Day. The pole position is important to us, as it has been in the past. We think that as we assess this month that we've had some good days. There's some people that have gone faster than we have during the month. But tomorrow everybody runs by themselves. It's going to be interesting to see how it works out. I think it's going to be the time of day. I hear the wind is going to change. We've been running with the wind, primarily I guess it's been coming out of the south. That's going to change direction tomorrow from what we understand, so it's going to be interesting. We look at our gearings, thing like that, a lot of things that are going to take place. But most important, you know, having Sam join the team has been tremendous. Ended up here, Gil (de Ferran) won the race, how do you replace a champion? Helio had a great run last year. I think the two of these guys have melded together well. We had a great race first race in Homestead. Two great runs, both in Phoenix and Japan, Sam had a couple of accidents, which obviously those things happen. We're moving on from there. I said to him, we got all the bad out of system here early on. We're looking forward to tomorrow and the race.

KING: The continuity of this team has been pretty incredible over the 30-plus years it's been in existence. Sam became, I believe, the 14th different driver to win wearing Marlboro Team Penske colors. There have been nine different drivers that have won for Team Penske here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway of the 13 wins here. Obviously three in a row, going for an unprecedented fourth in a row. Let's open it up to questions.

Q: Roger, this place has been so much a part of your life over the years, but we rarely see you show any emotion here. Do you get an adrenaline rush in this place ever?

PENSKE: This is all business here (laughter), as you all well know. I think, as I've said to the team, we said it again this morning, we come here with a job to get done. It's the greatest race in the world. When the team prepares for the race, we say if you're here and not focused, you're kind of cutting off your pay check by not staying in the game for the whole month. Basically, I love coming here. As you know, I came here with my dad in 1951 as a spectator. Just was out a few years when we didn't compete here. I'm excited. I'm always excited. I guess I said to someone the other day, the most fun is when you win this race, you can go back up in the suite and watch it on TV with everyone else. So join us in the suite later on in the month.

Q: Tim, as important as the Indy 500 is, when do you physically start preparing for this race as distinguished from the beginning of the season? This year was special.

TIM CINDRIC: There are different phases of that preparation. You're thinking about it really from the time you leave the end of the previous year because you're really starting to work on what didn't we do right, what do we need to focus on next year that we didn't prepare correctly for the year previous. Throughout the year, some of the things take a much longer lead time to have done, to have made, to have prepared or researched or developed. You know, this year has been a bit unique as you all know with regard to the engines and chassis situation. We were able to come here in April and test not only on April 3rd, the manufacturing day, but also on the Open Test. The proof was in the pudding there a little bit as far as the preparation. Fortunately, we were able to be fast in those tests in April. I think we were well prepared, as was Toyota. These other guys have certainly closed that gap. We'll see what happens this month.

Q: Roger and Tim, when you both returned back to Indy in 2001, one of the things you wanted to help do was to grow the sport. This year for a variety of reasons the field is a little slim. What are some of the things you would like to do to maybe get this sport back on an upward spiral?

PENSKE: I think you need one open-wheel series. I've been consistent with that comment ever since we came back. We assessed, along with our sponsor, where we needed to be for the next three or four years when we came back. Certainly it was part of the IRL. We're continuing in that direction. I think the number of cars, we'll have to wait and see if there's 33 cars. I'd like to see 33. Again, that always takes place, there's a lot of action the week after qualifying. But I think we got to have consistency. Certainly with sponsor availability, just the costs of motor racing, we need to have one division, not two. That's been one of the successes with NASCAR. They've been consistent as a sanctioning body for a long time. That's what we need to continue to grow. But there has to be more than one racing series because the investment in tracks like Indianapolis or the new tracks around the country, you can see today how important it was for these people to get second dates because of the investments. They just can't run one NASCAR race and support a $200-million investment. We need to have an open-wheel series; we need to have good feeder series. That to me is the most important thing. The continuity of the races, going to the markets where we can create a demand and have a dimension and build racing stars. I think we'll start to see that in IRL.

Q: Yesterday from that bench, Bobby Rahal expressed significant importance in a restart technique on the part of his drivers, so much so that he is giving them classes on restart technique. Rick, you're a driver's coach. What does a driver have to know to be good on a restart?

RICK MEARS: Well, you know, that can vary throughout the day, depending on where you're at in the race. Early on, you know, it's not as critical, obviously. You still have a lot of time left, so you don't want to do anything risky or take any unnecessary chances. Later in the day, it depends who you're running against. Everybody is a little bit different on race starts. One guy might not be as strong as somebody else. It depends on who you're running with and where you're at in the day. Obviously, toward the end of the race, when you're in the midst of a shootout or something like that, you just got to be on your toes. You try to anticipate as much as you can, try to get -- not make any mistakes. You miss a gear or something like that, they're all over you. You just got to stay very focused when it comes right to it, try to get your timing right, anticipate the best you can, no mistakes.

Q: Helio, you were fastest yesterday for the second time of the week. You were not particularly happy when you got out of the car. Could you talk about that, what you hoped to accomplish?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Was like Roger is saying, tomorrow you're going to run by yourself. That's where you need to know how the car handles. It's nice to be on the top of the list, but sometimes you need to be realistic. Yes, I did have a draft yesterday. I wasn't trying to do it, but unfortunately when you have 28 cars out there practicing the same time, sometimes it's hard to find a spot. Not that I wasn't happy; I was just not happy with the situation. Obviously, the car seems to be improved from Wednesday to yesterday. Today, obviously, the weather seems to be holding pretty well. We going to be able to have some practice. We need to keep working. We need to focus on our job and make sure we can execute tomorrow in the qualifying.

Q: Roger, since he retired from driving and joined Team Penske as an advisor, what has Rick done for your team to keep you at the level of success that you are?

PENSKE: I think the first thing Rick did, by staying with the team, he was a great person, the glue that kept us together when we had our highs and when we had our lows. He demonstrates the ultimate teamwork. Within the drivers, he's become a confidant of the drivers because he's experienced almost all the things they will experience. Over time, we had rule changes, more power, less power, more aerodynamics, less aerodynamics during his time. I think having him there, talking with the engineers, because a lot of times the technical people are running down a particular path on a change, Rick can sit down and question one of our engineers, saying, "You really think so?" It's easier for him to do that than the drivers. The drivers have to look to the engineers for the setup. He becomes somewhat of a gate, I would call it, when some of the technical stuff that can go through him, say, "What do you think about this," whether it's the crew chief for Sam or Helio. That's been a big part. More important is he has the ability to sit down in quiet time and talk with the drivers. Anything they have on their chest, whether it's about situations at the track or off the track or on the track, he can kind of give them his input. I think that's awful important.

Q: Rick, you've helped this team pop an awful lot of champagne corks here. Looking last night, you obviously got your first win in '79, but you've been a part of this team for 12 of the 13 Indy 500 wins, right?


Q: Average-wise, that's one every other year. That's not bad.

MEARS: Obviously, you have to have the right team, the right equipment, the right people to put those kind of numbers up. I've been very fortunate to be involved with the right team.

Q: Helio, Sam has said often that he dreamed growing up of driving for Roger Penske. When you were growing up, what did Roger Penske mean to you? When the opportunity came that you could drive for him, what did that mean for you?

CASTRONEVES: That's a tough question, tight spot here (laughter). I remember 1989 when I was watching the race in Indianapolis, not here but in Brazil, Emerson was winning the race. They were showing Roger, the same way, white hair. He doesn't change. That guy doesn't change, I tell you that (laughter). Actually I thought myself, "One day I hope drive for that man." Obviously, opportunity unfortunately happened in kind of a difficult way. Destiny somehow put me in this position with this team. I couldn't be honored enough. Obviously, everybody I guess, when you talk in the paddock, everybody wish to have the Marlboro patch on the chest, drive for the red-and-white car, all these great situation that you see out there. When opportunity happen, I couldn't be happier guy. Obviously, like I said once, it's a big part, but a big responsibility, as well. I knew I have to work hard. I learn a lot with everyone in the team, especially Rick. I mean, all the success that I had, it's a combination of a lot of things. I couldn't be pleased enough to be in this team.

Q: Roger, as dignified as you were when you left here in '95 after not making the field, as dignified as you've been since you've been back, do you ever allow yourself a quiet little feeling of Penske's revenge for the years '95 through 2000?

PENSKE: I would say, you know, we had great success in '94, came back in '95. I guess that shows you how competitive this place can be. In those days, of course, there wasn't any question that there was bumping going on for a number of reasons, the availability of sponsors and cars. But, you know, we left, we continued racing that year. We knew that we had to make some fundamental changes, which we did in the team,ultimately. Then Gil got us our hundredth win. Coming back probably in '01 was important to us to execute. I forget, there was an article. What was the title after we left Phoenix? "Fizzle and Sizzle." That was something I will say was embedded in my forehead as we left Phoenix and we came here. I remember probably Cindric and I did a high-five after we won the race. That probably was the extent, then we got down to business (laughter).

Q: Helio, you had a warm relationship with Gil. What is your relationship with Sam? Do you have to develop that or is it going to come naturally?

CASTRONEVES: Well, same as start with Gil. When I start join Team Penske with de Ferran, we work pretty much the same. We want to compete as hard as we can on the track. Obviously, relationship came during those years because we're from the same country, could be able to know the culture, speak the same language, especially when we're in the meeting, we try to make fun a lot of people that they didn't know what we're talking about. That actually help a lot. But with Sam, I mean, it's better having him on our side instead of against us. The good news is he definitely is a great American talent. No doubt about he's -- everybody ask me about the tips I should give to him. Actually, he doesn't need any tips, you know. He's a guy been doing a phenomenal job. Yes, I know him, it's my fourth race with him. We knowing each other like normal way of professional race car driver. You know, you talking, you try and share information, you trying go a little bit more in a personal side when you start knowing the person well. I do believe I have -- sometimes people try to put us against each other. I don't see why. Rivalry always going to happen, obviously. At least in my point, I know how to separate in the track, when we leave that. We're on the same team; we try to achieve the same goal. Again, he seems to be -- I'm getting along OK, I think (laughter). At least when I say something, he laughs. I don't know if he thinks I'm a clown or I'm funny. The good news, I got my invitation from his wedding. I'm OK on that.

Q: Sam, you were the "fizzle" coming out of Phoenix that year when Roger and him were talking. Your response to that question? Your month got off to a little bit of a rocky start with the way you were feeling. You look a lot better today than you did on Monday.

SAM HORNISH JR.: I feel quite a bit better than I did on Sunday. It's one of those things where you want to get out there, get the month started. You're trying to go through all the paces. We had the drivers' meeting, pictures. I'm like, "Yeah. I can make it through this part." Kept getting worse and worse. I decided to go see the doctor. He decided it wasn't good for me to be out on the track. I accepted that. We got going on Monday, got right up to speed. It was a good thing that the Open Test went as well as it did. As far as that goes, we haven't been the fastest this month, but we've been consistently up there. We feel good about the car in qualifying trim. Really have to wait and see what happens tomorrow. The guys have been working real hard. They put a lot of hours in, definitely a lot more than I did this week. As far as getting along with Helio, it's one of those things, I've seen him from the outside for two to three years now. A lot of people have told me, asked me, "He's like that on TV; he can't be like that all the time." I'm like, "He can be." I mean, he's just a really outgoing guy. He talks to you. We sat next to each other on a plane to Washington, D.C., after a photo shoot that we did for Marsh earlier in the month. He talked to me the whole way. I had a great time. I mean, it was one of the most enjoyable plane flights I've ever been on. It takes time to get to know each other. I feel the same way he does. There's nobody that you want to beat more than your teammate, but if you can't win, there's nobody you want to win more than your teammate. I'm really looking forward to the rest of the year, on into the future, getting to know him a bit better.

Part 2


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Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Bobby Rahal , Rick Mears , Roger Penske , Sam Hornish Jr. , Sam Hornis
Teams Team Penske
Article type News